Highlights of the 2005 Wings Over Gillespie Airshow

The 2005 Wings Over Gillespie airshow in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon was dedicated to the pivotal Battle of Midway, fought between June 4-6 of 1942.   This F6F Hellcat was the main American naval fighter of world war two, but actually it entered service more than a year after the battle was fought, so its display here is something of an artistic license.

F6F Hellcat   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Nevertheless it's great to see the Hellcat flying, particularly in formation with a fighter which did participate at Midway - though on the wrong side!   This is one of the few genuine Mitsubishi Zero "Zeke" fighters still flying, allbeit with an American Pratt and Whitney radial engine.   The only one with its original Japanese engine also resides in southern California, and is a regular participant at the Chino airshow.

F6F Hellcat and Mitsubishi Zero

OK, hands up if you know what this aircraft is?  An American F4F Wildcat naval fighter?  No.  The British navy Martlet version of the same aircraft?  Close, but still no cigar.   Actually, it's a trick question, since it's a General Motors manufactured FM-2 Wildcat painted up as a British Martlet.   Grumman, the original manufacturer of the Wildcat, was very busy with production of the Avenger and so General Motors ended up building over 70% of the Wildcats which were delivered.   Although the Hellcat quickly became the definitive American naval fighter, the Wildcat continued in service and was manufactured right until the end of the war.

FM-2 Wildcat painted as a British Martlet

Here's another aircraft in Atlantic colors which flew at Midway, half a world away.   This battle was the very first combat outing for the TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, but it was an extremely inauspicious start.   Of the six Avengers which attacked, only one returned, and none of them achieved successful hits against the Japanese aircraft carriers.   You can see a photograph of the only surviving Avenger taken shortly after its return, as well as an original wartime photograph of the first President George Bush sitting in the Avenger he piloted, on the Warbirds over Wanaka airshow page.

TBM Avenger in Atlantic color scheme

The Wildcat and Avenger both fought against the Zero at Midway and the Hellcat fought it later, but here's an aircraft which never fought it at all.   The Grumman F8F Bearcat, another naval fighter built by the same company who designed the Wildcat, the Hellcat and the Avenger, entered service just after the war ended, so never got an opportunity to see action against the Japanese.

F8F Bearcat and Mitsubishi Zero

This Douglas AD-6 Skyraider is another American naval aircraft which entered service just after the war ended.   Like the Bearcat, both remained in service for a long time and saw considerable action in Vietnam - I even have a photo of a Skyraider captured at the end of that war and incorporated into the communist air force!   The Skyraider was certainly a remarkable aircraft, capable of carrying twice the weight of bombs of the early model B-17 Flying Fortresses based at Midway at the time of the Japanese attack.   It's even more extraordinary to consider that it could do this with a single engine and single crewman, in contrast to the B-17's four engines and ten crewmen!   This particular aircraft is one of the best on the airshow circuit, complete with a simulated bomb and rocket load and a pilot who is ready, willing and able to throw this large aircraft around in one of the most high energy performances you'll see anywhere.   The large panel sticking out of the bottom of  the Skyraider is a dive brake, which was deployed several times, together with the tail hook.

AD-6 Skyraider

This was a great show as far as formation flights were concerned, with several very unusual combinations in addition to the two Zero formations you've already seen.   Here is that same Skyraider together with the Wildcat/Martlet, which is putting smoke out from its engine as part of its act.

AD-6 Skyraider and FM-2 Wildcat

The same guy who owns the Skyraider also owns this aircraft, and this is his daughter flying it.   Although it looks like an ordinary T-28 Trojan training aircraft, it's actually another mystery aircraft like the Martlet.   The color scheme and the tricolor insignia on the tail give away the fact that it's a Fennec, the French version of the Trojan.   Although this type of aircraft started life as a naval trainer, they were also pressed into combat with bombs and rockets and were used this way in Vietnam.


Here's another aircraft which saw action in Vietnam - an L-19 (later O-1) Birddog.   A large number of these aircraft were used in the forward air controller role, directing fast jets and other aircraft onto ground targets, and even flying low in order to attract ground fire towards themselves and thus find the location of enemy troops.   It was an extraordinarily brave man who went to war under such hazardous conditions, in such a small and easily damaged machine.   This one is fitted out with underwing bombs, but in fact most pilots flew into combat with nothing more than smoke rockets and a handgun.

O-1 Birddog

Although this is primarily a warbirds show, Julie Clark was also on hand to put on a typically excellent display in her T-34 Mentor.   Although I normally don't shoot aerobatic displays, it's hard not to feel excited about high adrenaline stunts like this.

Julie Clark's T-34 Mentor skims the ground
Julie Clark closeup

By the looks of it, Julie was either screaming with terror or enjoying the performance every bit as much as the audience!

Another great feature of this show was the display of different types of communist aircraft, including this Russian designed Antonov An 2 "Colt" which is rarely seen flying in America, despite being a relatively cheap aircraft to own and operate.   The Antonov ("Colt" is actually a NATO reporting name) is the world's largest single engined biplane, used for hauling freight in many communist countries.   Entering service in 1948, it has been phenomenally successful - this particular example was built in Poland in 1984 and they're still being manufactured today in China!   Their top speed is only 160mph (255 km/h) and cruising speed is a paltry 100mph (160 km/h), but the biplane layout provides a huge amount of lift and excellent short takeoff and landing capabilities, making this aircraft a real workhorse.   A somewhat puzzling feature is that the fuel tanks are in the top wings, which seems rather inconvenient for access, and one would think that the raised center of gravity from all that weight so high up would affect the flight characteristics.

Antonov An 2 Colt

In addition to the Colt, flying displays were also done by several Czechoslovakian built L29 Delfins, as well by an L39 Albatros, the Delfin's successor.   The Delfins and the Albatros were the main Soviet military jet fighters during the Cold War, and have become popular aircraft with American enthusiasts.   However it was this Russian MiG 21 "Fishbed" jet fighter which was the star attraction of the show as far as I was concerned.   This is a two-seat trainer version based in southern California, the first MiG 21 I've seen perform at any airshow - though I did have the great good fortune to see Vietnamese Air Force MiG 21s in action last year.

MiG-21 'Mongol-B' jet fighter   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Here's a "21" of a different type - the world's only flying H-21 Shawnee helicopter, which like many of the other aircraft on this page was used extensively in Vietnam.   The Shawnee doesn't fly during the airshows because of registration and licensing restrictions, however what would a southern California airshow be without me waiting until it departs at the end of the show, and adding another inadequate photo of the H-21 to my ever-expanding collection?   Eventually I hope to get side-view and front-view photos of this helicopter nicely illuminated by the sun, but unfortunately this was not to be the day.

H-21 Shawnee helicopter